How To Shoot Cars:</br> Run & Gun Style Feature Photography

I guess you can say that I am a bit of a problem solver when it comes to Speedhunting. I love the challenge of shooting a car feature during sunset, then having it published on the site and receiving immediate feedback from the fans all across the world. Digital photography has changed the way we look at the world, and of course it has changed automotive journalism.

Photography has always come naturally to me, and I started taking it very seriously right out of high school. To me, the best way to teach someone how to shoot is to show them the basics and let them learn the rest on their own. That way they can develop their own style and they can force themselves to shoot better, because after all, we are our own worst critics. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with a few tips here and there and in my last photography post I highlighted some pointers about shooting in harsh conditions. This time I wanted to give you guys some tips for shooting car features.


Some of this info pertains to shooting your own car, or even just shooting your friends’ cars. Either way, here are 10 tips that I have picked up over the past few years.


A few months ago I spent some time in Kyoto, Japan, visiting as many workshops as I possibly could. For one of the shoots I had the challenge of photographing two nearly identical cars, in the same location, back-to-back, in dwindling light.


Both cars were built by Mr. Rocket Bunny himself, Kei Miura – firstly the prototype KM4SH 86, and secondly the Rocket Bunny Version 2.0 86 with a fresh paint job. I’m going to concentrate on the latter in this photography guide.


If I was shooting them back in Los Angeles, it would not have been much of a problem. I know plenty of open spots where we would not be bothered, and I could shoot till the sun dipped below the horizon. However, I was in Japan and on Miura-san’s turf. Heck, I could barely get used to driving on the left-hand side of the road, so I had to rely heavily on the legendary car builder for location suggestions.


Tip #1: If you can’t shoot the car at the shop or at the owner’s house, then ask for any suggestions.

They may have a favorite local spot that they go to. There is no point in forcing a location to work – especially if it’s a crowded shop or garage. No matter how cool it is, even if it’s the home of TRA-Kyoto – home of the riveted fender flare.


If that does not work out, then there is always Google Maps. About half the locations that I use on my feature shoots are decided upon on my computer before I leave the house, or frantically on my phone while the sun is setting. Thank goodness for Street View, because you can actually get an idea of what the background will look like.


For this particular shoot Miura-san said he knew exactly where to go. I asked for two things: open space where I can see the sunlight, and also a place with not too much traffic so no one would bother us.


He took me to a public park, and because of the dwindling light there were not many people out and about. It was the perfect setting.

Shoot Everything

Tip #2: If you are shooting on location, even if the spot is a few minutes from the shop, take that time to get in as many action shots as possible. 

These could be rolling shots, or shots of the owner/builder driving the car.


This is also a good time to get some shots of the car in its natural habitat, as part of the appeal of many builds are the fact that they can be driven on the street. Depending on where you are, sitting in traffic shots can offer a unique perspective.


Tip #3: Before you start snapping away, always spot check the car and make sure it’s clean. 

This could be at a petrol station while getting fuel, or even a car wash.


The people involved are always appreciative if you include them in the story, after all, they are part of the appeal of the car. Since the car is feature-worthy, the person behind it is likely just as interesting.


Tip #4: This tip does not apply to this shoot, but always keep an eye on the wheels for straightened center caps, and also keep an eye on the steering wheel.


I learned this from Editor At Large, Bryn. It annoys me when I look back at some of previous shoots and notice that I didn’t pay more attention to those small details, but now I’m a stickler about it. And also keep an eye out for brake dust while you are at it. While Photoshop helps, it’s much better to get it right in camera if you can.


Tip #5: The car always needs to be moved, either to follow the light, or you just need a different shot. Try to be as polite as possible with the owner, because after all, they are taking time out of their day to help you. 

I get so focused when shooting that sometimes that my directing can get a bit rude. I never noticed it until Sean Klingelhoefer directed me during a feature shoot. Always say thank you and please, and be very patient at the same time.


Sometimes the builder/owner will want you to move the car for them. That is fine – just be careful. However, I prefer someone else to move the car for me, as that way I can see precisely the way the light is hitting it and therefore get the exact shot that I see in my head.

Check It Twice

Tip #6: Make a checklist of the shots that you are looking for. 

This one is kind of a no-brainer.


Sometimes when you are shooting, it’s easy to get lost in the beauty of it all. But later on, when you’re checking out your shots on your computer, you realize that you forgot to shoot the back half of the car, or even the engine bay. I am sometimes guilty of that one…


Making a checklist is the best way to get all your shots in. When you’re  done with the checklist you know you have your bread and butter shots down, which means you can start getting creative.


Tip #7: It’s all about the background. 

When I am shooting a car feature on location, I like to pretend the car is not there at all. Focus on using the background to your advantage. Instead of zooming in and out, use your legs to move backwards and forwards.


Try shooting into the sun every once in a while. I know your photography teacher said not to, but rules are meant to be broken.


 Tip #8: It’s all in the details.

What sets a car like one apart are all the small touches.


It could be something as simple as an air freshener, but it’s the details that show the personal style of the builder/owner.


The best place to find little personal touches is in the interior; like the choice of steering wheel or even the rollcage color.


I’ve learned my lesson with shooting engine bays, because no matter if it’s stock or dirty, people always want to look under the hood. It really is the heart of the car.


Tip #9: There is no such thing has bad light. 

I know I’m going to get flamed for this one, but it’s true. I’ve had to shoot all times of the day – even high noon. There is always a way around harsh light.


If it’s really bad, then find an area with open shade. Sure, it’s ideal to shoot during sunrise and sunset, but then you’ll lack variety.


After getting all the shots I needed, it was time to get really risky and shoot some car-to-car shots in near darkness.


Tip #10: Shoot very slow shutter speeds, and shoot plenty.

Car-to-car shots are always fun and they look amazing. But it’s actually quite a difficult thing to master.


I suggest you use the widest lens you have. A 16mm or 18mm equivalent is perfect. You can use a 24mm equivalent, but be warned – the more zoomed in you are, the harder it is to get a sharp shot, especially if you’re shooting at 1/15th of a second or less.


I find that it is easiest to set your focus and lock your lens into manual. That way the camera can shoot as fast as possible without having to worry about focusing. Also, I find that it’s easier for the subject to stay the same speed, while you and your driver move around it depending on where you want to shoot.


As with all types of photography, practice makes perfect. Don’t worry about your gear as much, and focus on trying to get interesting subjects in front of your lens.


The first mistake most amateurs make is how much they obsess over the gear that they need to acquire. Even if you just have a cell phone camera, it’s better than nothing. At the end of the day, it’s about having fun. I mean, that is why we are into car culture, right? I know quite a few of you are amateur Speedhunters, so what sort of tips have you learned over the years? Share them with us!

Larry Chen
Instagram: larry_chen_foto



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Thanks for the tips larry^^


I shot this at NIGHT.   Slow shutter speeds, one good one out of about 60 photos.


I must say, the V2 looks quite awesome here! I think your photos do the kit justice.


Thanks for the heads up and tips!


Very helpful article all around, excited to try some of these tips out. Thank you SH!


Its so rude!!!!! Need this kit in my life NOW!

Larry you truly are a god amongst men with it comes to shooting cars. Now all i need is about 6 extra screens so I don't have to choose my new wallpaper.

Looking forward to trying these tips out. Cheers


Thanks for the tips as its great that a pro shares it with us mortals.
I toatally adgree with taking pics of small details as i regurally buy a mag that bryn sometimes contributes to and they tell you in the write up it has a part of another car but never show a pic of it fitted.THAT P____S me off.
Ps i still love my 35mm slr old skool!!!!!!


Very inspiring post, shooting rides looks interesting and damn much fun, I'll try it out aswell, gotta see if I'll like this..
Oh and I gotta get a BRZ with this Body-Kit, it looks so damn sexy!!


I would have loved to be there larry when you shot that evo IX in dubai!


What Ive learned about photography Is its all about light and framing you get those two right and it doesnt matter what gear you have youll probably have a decent shot. I think the gear just makes it easier for experienced photographers to get 'THE' shot because they can take advantage of all the features a different lens or camera may have.

I have to admit my scrolling tactics for speedhunters is pics first (while skimming words), then read comments, then back to read words. I made this comment before step three so you may have mentioned what ive said. 

My favorite shots tend to be the ones that lead my eyes somewhere without interruption by anything other than the subject.


Great article, thanks as always Larry.


this.guy.said It was never about the gear. In fact back when we were still doing a Photo of the Year award based on your votes, my image of Mad Mike won. Which I shot with a Canon Rebel T3i. Which is a consumer camera. It's about being at the right place at the right time with the right technique.


LukeEVOLUTIONVIII Yeah, that was a fun one. I convinced that security guard to let us shoot there.


I can not for my life get a rolling shot. I've done it once but no one is willing enough to do it with me. Just getting 2 people to drive is hard... but what I learned from photography is all about timing.


Thank you for the tips. Whenever I looked at my interfered shot, I regret not waiting for that person to pass by before shooting the car. Amateur hour haha. So I always remind myself to think before I click. Having some great pictures is better than a lot of unusable pictures.


Cool! That rising sun that is only visible in certain lights is awesome, super clever!


last shot on the 2nd page - photographer in shot  :P


Nobody had better flame the Chenster on this one - ''There is no such thing as bad light'' - TRUE!

If you are shooting a car where the member may be part of a team/club, half the time other team members will be around the shoot, so get them to bounce their car lights of objects/walls/etc to create directional light for you.

If you have no flash on the camera.. whats up... if your at a event, position yourself (but not in the way) of your fellow cameraman and work off the light their own flash/gear may produce, or more often than not someone in the crowd may pop off a pocket camera flash, so as long as you firing the shots, you may get something when looking back you didn't realize you had.

As yes, IPhone/smart phone users have no excuse as their is so many free apps available now which have filters, gradients, etc to smarten up your shot.

Larry Chen I challenge thee to shoot an event for a Speedhunters future post at some point to cover an event, or do a shoot with phone only and show how some of the filters, or tricks can work!?! I've laid down the rules, can you step up lol..

Good stuff Larry,

Later all.


So, Mr Chen, what exactly is "your style"?
And by no means treat this as a form of attack, just a question out of curiosity, from a photography student.


I'm working hard to become an European Larry Chen. Maybe one day....


T Brian Just work hard, and you will get where you want to be without a doubt.


I disagree with the notion of gear not mattering and there being no such thing as bad light.  

Gear ABSOLUTELY matters.  Most people draw the comparison of a very good photographer using poor gear and a bad photographer using great gear.  That's an invalid comparison, because there are too many variables.  Try this: Take a Rebel with a 18-55 kit and fixate it at 50mm at whatever max aperture, then take a 5D3 with a 50mm 1.2L - see which photo looks better.

If you phrase it as "no such thing as bad light" I think you're technically correct - because the absence of light is not good light. But, cloudless skies at noon do not produce photos that even compare to sunset, when all the colors come out.  

There are exceptions to every rule, but rules are usually generalizations that apply to the majority of situations.


@Funky Child I believe in realism. I try my best to show what it was actually like to be there in person. I believe in shooting with natural light as well, but on some rare occasions I will use artificial light.


Roughsmoke I like that challenge, and I've been meaning to do something like that for a while now, but i've never had the chance because most of the events I cover are too important to shoot phone only. haha.


SlidewayZ213 Practice makes perfect. Trade for photos if you have to.


With your tips I just might. 
I only need to get over two handicaps. 
I miss a good lens. I only got 18-55mm. Even if I knew what better lens to get, lens prices in Europe are ridiculous.
And I also live in a country where people don't have any interesting cars.

Kristopher Clewell

Shooting in bad circumstances and "forcing it" is a disservice to the client and the owner of the car. If you find yourself in a bad situation it's usually because of lack of proper preparation and foresight. Scout properly, and make the best of your time and you wont find yourself in a bad lighting bad location situation.


Great write up!  Makes me very pleased to hear you're in it for all the fun.  I can't count the number of local photographers around me that obsess over "being better" than the others and forget about the joy of taking a beautiful photo.


Larry Chen Do some at Gatebil! Im sure im not the only one who would love to see what you could do with a phone haha
Reading this makes me realise i live in a boring aeria of the world. only milelong fields here. So ill keep my shooting to the track where the fun and smoke is pouring haha :)


T Brian I'm going for a Canadian Larry Chen, haha. This guys is a huge inspiration!


Colour/Color :) ???


My biggest problem has always had to do something with color: lighting, contrast, saturation etc. I love the way everything pops out OR blends in so perfectly and so smoothly. Is there a lot of work done before uploading or just touch up? If there's not a lot of work, maybe some tips for getting the right colors?
Thanks for another great item, Larry!!!


How about you shared about your editing technic or editing style? Sometimes editing is really a difficult part for me :(

And about the gear, i think it really matters in every part of Photography, but if you have *call it* Canon 1Dx with 70-200mm f/2.8 lens without good photography skills, the result will be less interesting than someone who have Canon 1000D w/55-250mm lens with good photography skills. So, "man-behind-the-camera" skills is more important than the gear. Just my opinion :)


BenFry Good luck, man! The hardest thing is, imho, to know what to do and how to get noticed. I can take 100 pics of a car but how do I know any of them's good and what to do in the post with it to make them look good?
In my country there aren't many independent projects about cars. It's mostly tv and magazines so it's a bit easier to get noticed but it's a whole another thing worldwide on the internet.
Anyways, I'm off to two events today so there's plenty of opportunities to practice. But the only way for me to get feedback is from the ordinary people who are always like "yeah, it's ok".


I have a question, how is it with license plates? Are there any times when you have to edit them out? What cases might that be and is it common that people whose cars are photographed ask to have them removed?


Great tips. Thanks man!


Also one follow-up question, if it's ok. How do you guys who use DSLRs deal with using your camera in extremely hot weather, say like 30 degrees C and above? I've been at an event today and my camera burned so bad I had to turn it off every two minutes and hide in the shade to wait for it cool down. Any tips?


Awesome article Larry. I recently purchased a DSLR (about 9 months back), and started shooting cars for our websites blog. These tips are really useful, especially the rolling shots which I had no clue how to do. Keep the tips coming! Great work and amazing photos as always.


Nice one, Larry! I must say thought, and it may raise a few eyebrows, Japan is one of the toughest places to get a photo-shoot location.  Most roads in the sticks are surrounded with ugly guardrails (I even tried editing them out), while some city locations may be nice, they can only be "yours" for sunrise as it gets pretty crowded.  Also it is very hard to find proper sunlight because buildings are positioned so densely blocking the light and creating contrast where it's not needed.  This brings me to another point: reflections:  Whether you are in the city or mountain roads, lack of open areas will always create reflections which makes it extremely difficult to shoot dark color car. 
Every time I visit the West Coast I get insanely jealous of your shooting locations.  That desert backdrop, during sunset, with some mountains or old structures in the back, and not a soul within a mile radius to bother you!  And after you're done, you get to reward yourself with some In & Out goodness!


Great tips thanks Larry. From image 17 I have learned: how to take a selfie while shooting a car. :)


Another great post, thanks Larry! Since reading your previous post with tips I've kept them in mind when shooting. I've learned to just have fun and don't be afraid to keep shooting. The more shots I get, then I can see what works and doesn't work. Try different angles and look for parts of the car that make it unique (even if it's a dead fly on the headlight...). I only shoot with my cellphone and an old DSLR, but it's just lots of fun regardless =)!


T Brian


My advice is to get a Circular Polarizer filter for your lens(es) no matter what you are using. It is a fairly inexpensive way to get a lot more punch out of your photos. Let's face it, most motorsport events are not only held at dawn and dusk, so you have to work around the harsh light and this helps a ton. It helps kill reflections and also helps saturate background and sky colors. When I bought one, it was a break through moment for me.
I use Av (aperture priority) mode for static shoots and Tv (shutter speed priority) mode for motorsports stuff. I'm sure you will hear people say you have to shoot in manual mode all the time, but as amateurs, you will get a lot more keepers shooting in these two modes. This helps you focus on getting shots and framing instead of worrying about matching the shutter speeds, etc.
I would also find any facebook page for local events near you. These usually lead you to other pages where you can find more events to go to. SCCA has autocross events all over, so if you live in the US, that is a great place to start and meet other car lovers (read: opportunities to talk about private shoots too). Ask the organizers if you can stand with the track workers and take photos - most times they will not have a problem with it.
Hope that helps some :).


Ahh, great article. I agree with everything you said. As an amateur photographer of seven years and just purchasing my first slr camera almost two years ago. I would like to say for the last part, camera equipment is a big must. I understand shoot with what you have, but quality means everything especially when the subject, lighting and the background come into place.


when ever i drop the shutter speed, most of my images come out way too over exposed....
is this just a case of playing with the ISO and exposure settings to find the right combination?


Nikhil_P I don't know what you shoot but on my D600 (and other Nikon's that I have used) I can simply dial the exposure compensation to take care of that. Alternatively you can drop the iso and close the aperture up a little more (since you're rolling the background will be blurred anyway but the car moving the same speed as you will be crisp) to keep those exposure levels in check. As a last resort there's always an ND filter, I sometimes bust out an ND4 filter on those SUPER bright days. Hope this helps.


Bridges Totally agree, it's cool to be Captain "I ONLY shoot in manual mode" but at the end of the day for motorsports shots shutter priority produces tons of keepers :)


Coryislost Nikhil_P thanks for the tip! ive got a sony A57, ive tried playing with the exposure setting on the lowest setting..but didnt think about the aperture!
id have to give it a try!


I've noticed sunrise and sunset also provide the best static lighting. Wasn't expecting this picture to look this nice the day after I picked it up! Depending on how the car's geometry is designed also plays a big roll in how light acts with it in showing body lines and such, and sometimes makes the littlest imperfections stick out as well.


Question: How can I work for speedhunters? :D


Bridges Totally agree, but if you buy a Polarizer Filter, buy a good one. A cheap one is useless.


Super Informative! A great read. I would however, love to see something on the post process. So tips on the editing and software used! Super handy though :)


I actually clapped at the end, great and detailed advice - it's the little things that count.


I agree but just for touch ups and making the pics pop


Very well written, thanks!


I’m curious as to what lens you’ve used for this feature, thanks in advance!